Close up of display case of plates of cicchetti in Venice, Italy.
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What Are Cicchetti? + Where To Eat Them In Venice

Last updated on December 28th, 2023

Wondering what in the world cicchetti are and what the fuss is all about? If you have been to Venice before or are planning an upcoming trip, you have most definitely come across the term cicchetti and probably have some questions.

I am here to help! I have been living in Italy for over a decade now and after numerous trips to Venice – home to cicchetti culture – I feel confident in sharing my expert knowledge and advice about what cicchetti are and where to eat them in Venice.

In this guide, I will cover:

  • What cicchetti are and how to pronounce the word
  • Origins of cicchetti
  • What to drink with cicchetti
  • Most popular cicchetti in Venice
  • How to eat cicchetti
  • When to eat cicchetti
  • My favorite places to try cicchetti in Venice

All my recommendations and suggestions in this article are based on first hand experience and expertise developed throughout my years of visits to Venice, Italy.

What Exactly Are Cicchetti? 

Small plate with four cicchetti and a glass of red wine on a marble counter.

Cicchetti (pronounced cheek-keht-tee in Italian), sometimes seen written as cichetti or cicheti in the local Venetian dialect, are small snacks or bites that are typically served at bacari in Venice.

The formula for eating cicchetti is simple:

A small bite + A small sip

Eating cicchetti is traditionally a very fast affair, done standing with a small glass of either local white wine (oftentimes very cheap) or even a small spritz.

Bacari are cicchetti bars or small restaurants specializing in serving cicchetti. They are not dissimilar to wine bars serving up small nibbles with a wide selection of regional wines. 

Glass display case with shelves of cicchetti in Venice, Italy.

Food Lovers: Take yourself on a bacaro tour with my complete bacaro tour itinerary or check out my 24 hour and 48 hour food guides for Venice.

I would go as far as to compare cicchetti with the English translation of finger food, because this is exactly how many cicchetti are eaten. 

Common cicchetti examples include simple snacks like small bites of meat or fish. Other examples include:

  • Small open-faced sandwiches
  • Crostini
  • Scallops on half shell
  • A small piece of fish or boiled octopus 
  • A square of polenta topped with sauce
Cicchetti loaded with toppings behind a glass display case in Venice, Italy.

Cicchetti are generally very inexpensive, costing anywhere from €1 to upward of €5, at the most chic places. If I am having just a quick sip of wine and a bite “on-the-go” I will just get one or two but for a more ‘meal’ experience, I would order several and try to get a table. 

Cicchetti for Venetians are a social event, an act of coming together or a meeting point for the locals to catch up, even just for five minutes over something to eat and drink. Whether it’s the fishermen early in the morning, the businessmen in the evening or the girlfriends in the afternoon, there is always someone somewhere enjoying cicchetti in Venice. 

Learn More: Interested in what you should be tasting in Venice? Read What to Eat in Venice

Origins Of Cicchetti

The bell tower in St. Mark's Square with the basilica in the background in Venice, Italy.

A small glass of white wine in Venice is referred to as an ombra, meaning shadow, referring to the legend of how the Venetians kept the wine cool that they would sell under the shadow of the large belltower in St.Mark’s Square at market time. 

Although I have never actually heard someone say it, (mainly because I don’t live in Venice and don’t have cicchetti with Venetians on a regular basis), a common phrase between locals is andiamo a bere un’ombra, meaning “let’s go have a glass of wine”.

This tradition of drinking an ombra in good company was soon followed by the tradition of cicchetti as Italians don’t usually like to drink on an empty stomach or without some kind of small nibble in hand. And because in Venice it’s socially acceptable to drink at all hours of the day, they needed to invent small bites to accompany each small glass of wine.

So why is it socially acceptable to drink all day in Venice and where does this come from you ask? Well, for most of the year, Venice is a very cold, damp, humid place and the local economy was built upon manual labor jobs, fishing jobs and other jobs outdoors. So how did Venetians keep warm all day? A little glass here, a little glass there! 

People chat and linger outside 'Al Merca' baccaro in Venice, Italy.

Originally, cicchetti might have been what was local that day, freshly caught and in season, such as a small piece of cooked fish, cooked meat or even a hard-boiled egg or piece of bread with a bit of sauce. 

Today, there are several simple varieties but a ton of variety, including Michelin cicchetti joints, traditional and famous bacari and innovative chefs mixing tradition with innovation. 

Cicchetti Vs Tapas

Glass display case full of shelves of cicchetti in Venice, Italy.

Tapas are large appetizers in Spanish cuisine which can be combined to make a whole meal. They might be hot or they might be cold and can be served at any kind of eatery in Spain including bars, restaurants and specific tapa bars. 

They are usually larger then a single bite and could be shared. Cicchetti are a single bite or two, and typically not shared because of their small size. Because cicchetti are so small, unless you take yourself on a cicchetti or bacaro tour (visiting several different bacari in a single evening), cicchetti typically don’t replace a meal. 

Cicchetti Vs Pinchos

Wooden platter of cicchetti in Venice, Italy.

Pinchos from the Basque region in Spain are much more similar to cicchetti than tapas are. Like cicchetti, pinchos are small snacks made to serve one and are just a bite or two. 

While cicchetti are not usually served with a toothpick (although they might be), pinchos almost always are. 

What To Drink With Cicchetti in Venice

Bartenders behind the counter in Venice, Italy. Two drinks in wine glasses on the counter in front of them.

The most common beverage you will see locals drinking with their cicchetti in Venice are small pours of white wine and small spritz, usually a Select Spritz.

White wines will typically be younge, not old vintages that are crisp and light such as:

  • Ribolla
  • Malvasia
  • Soave 

Still and sparking prosecco from the regional prosecco country is also popular with cicchetti. 

Most Popular Cicchetti To Try In Italy

Here are my top recommendations for cicchetti you should try while you’re in Venice:

Baccalà Mantecato 

Rectangular white plate with a baccala cicchetto and a raw shrimp and glass of white wine on a counter.

(Pronounced bahk-kah-lah mahn-teh-cah-toh in Italian)

A creamy puree of salt cod is served on small rounds of toasted bread or crispy piece of polenta. This is the most famous and you can usually find it at restaurants in Venice as well. The best baccalà mantecato I’ve had was at Osteria Bancogiro. 

Polpette Di Pesce

Fried cicchetti on trays in a display case in Venice, Italy.

(Pronounced pohl-peht-teh dee peh-sheh in Italian)

Polpette di pesce are small, deep fried fish balls (or flying saucer shaped) served with various sauces. They might be bite size or even larger, to be consumed in a couple of bites. 

Sarde In Saor 

Two cicchetti - on a plate and a napkin - on a wooden table in Venice, Italy.

(Pronounced sahr-deh in sow-oor in Italian)

Fresh Venetian lagoon sardines are fried in oil and flavored with raisins, pine nuts and white wine vinegar, a traditional flavor combination influenced by international trade over the centuries in Venice. Next to baccalà mantecato, this is the other top cicchetto to try in Venice. 

Spiedino Di Frittura 

(pronounced spee-eh-dee-noh dee freet-toor-ah in Italian)

A selection of local fried fish such as octopus, squid or cod fish on a skewer. You might also find this grilled. This is great if you are celiac and looking for gluten-free cicchetti.

Crostino Con Salmone Affumicato 

Platters of cicchetti on display in Venice, Italy.

(Pronounced croh-stee-noh cohn sahl-moh-neh ahf-foo-mee-cah-toh in Italian)

Toasted white bread spread with some kind of creamy cheese such as cream cheese or stracchino and topped with smoked salmon. A classic!

Polpette Veneziane

White plate with arancino on a table and small glass of white wine on left.

(Pronounced pohl-peht-teh veh-neh-zee-ah-neh in Italian)

Each bacaro in Venice makes their own version of this deep fried beef meatball, sometimes flavored with cheese or other spices. My favorite place to get them is at Cantina Do Spade. 

Bruschetta Con Pomodoro E Basilico 

(Pronounced broo-skeht-tah cohn pohm-oh-dohr-oh eh bah-see-lee-coh in Italian)

Your classic toasted slice of bread piled high with vine ripe tomatoes, fresh basil and a drizzle of olive oil. These are best in the summer when they will usually be available. Otherwise, look for bruschetta with winter radicchio grown in Venice. 

Make It: Try your hand at making Classic Italian Bruschetta.

Bruschetta Con Gorgonzola E Noci 

Small plate with three cicchetti on a marble counter with glass of white wine.

(Pronounced broo-skeht-tah cohn pohm-oh-dohr-oh eh noh-chee in Italian)

Small rounds of toasted bread with gorgonzola cheese and walnuts. The cheese mixture is very light because it’s whipped up and then topped with the nuts. In the winter it might have radicchio as well. 

Affettati 

(Pronounced ahf-feht-tah-tee in Italian)

Various local cured meats such as bresaola, sporessa and coppa, or other sausages are sliced and served with a toothpick. This is a less popular option so look for them off the beaten path bacari or displayed on the side of the main display case. 

Tortino 

Cicchetti made of polenta and potatoes on white plates on a wooden table in Venice, Italy.

(Pronounced tohr-tee-noh in Italian)

A tortino is the term for a small, savory pie, made with or without meat. Sometimes it will be made with egg, cheese and vegetables or it might be flavored with pancetta or include other cured meats. These are quite good and are one of the larger cicchetti that you can order. Check out the tortini ar Bacarando in Corte dell’Orso.

Scampo Crudo 

Raw shrimp and a cicchetto on plates with a glass of white wine on a counter.

(Pronounced scahm-poh kroo-doh in Italian)

Scampo crudo is a raw scampi served with a wedge of lemon and a bit of freshly ground black pepper, if you like. This is just one example of all the different raw fish options served as cicchetti in Venice. Look for other bites of raw fish and oysters!

How To Eat Cicchetti In Italy

Hand holds bread with fish spread in Venice, Italy.

Cicchetti are traditionally enjoyed standing with a glass of wine in one hand and a snack in the other. Nowadays, you can sit down and have a more leisurely cicchetti experience but historically, it’s more of a fast bite and sip of wine. 

Cicchetti usually don’t require a fork and knife but a toothpick at the most. You eat cicchetti with your hands but if it’s something a bit larger or complex such as a raw scampi, you might be given cutlery. 

And of course, you have to order a small glass of wine with your cicchetti. Usually, this means a locally produced white wine. 

Cicchetti can either be enjoyed similar to an Italian aperitivo or something to whet your palate before sitting down to a meal or, what I like to do, is to make a whole meal out of it by ordering several at a time or going to several different bars, enoteche (wine bars) and bacari, sampling different cicchetti as I go. 

When To Eat Cicchetti In Italy

Wine glass, bill, change, and platter of cicchetti in a restaurant in Venice, Italy.

Anytime is a good time to enjoy a small glass of wine and some cicchetti, according to Venetian locals. It’s not uncommon to see people with a tiny glass of white wine and a couple crostini, even in the early morning.

Fact: Venice has a long history of fishing and early mornings out at sea. Because of this, fishermen might be having a glass of wine and cicchetti at what seems like breakfast at 8:30 am but is really just a pick-me-up after a long morning out fishing. 

At any time of the day in Venice you can find cicchetti and bacari open with a wide selection of finger foods from 8:00 am until around dinner time or closing. 

Foodie Travel: Are you interested in planning an itinerary revolving around eating in Venice? Follow my guides or take inspiration from 24 Hour Food Guide to Venice and 48 Hour Food Guide to Venice.

Where To Eat Cicchetti In Venice

Hand holding a white plate with a crostini topped with smoked salmon outside on a canal.

These are my top picks for eating cicchetti while in Venice. I would say these are the city’s most famous and historic places, making them quite busy. Be prepared to wait or eat your cicchetti standing as these are extremely popular with both locals and tourists.

Tip: If you aren’t a fan of the crowds at these popular cicchetti joints, hit up the side streets and outskirts of Venice to find more authentic yet reliable cicchetti. 

Cantina del Vino già Schiavi

Woman looks in window at Cantine del Vino gia Schiavi in Venice, Italy.

Fondamenta Nani, 992

Specialty: Crostini or open-faced sandwiches with various toppings

Located in the hip Dorsoduro district, Cantina del Vino già Schiavi  is most famed for their crostini, similar to open-faced sandwiches with various toppings. There is always something new that the owners are creating but you can rely on the classics to always be on the menu. 

All’Arco

People sit at small tables and eat cicchetti and drink wine at All'Arco in Venice, Italy.

S. Polo, 436

Specialty: Fresh, local cicchetti, in particular the soft shell crab, when in season. 

Located just behind the Rialto Market, All’Arco is perhaps Venice’s most famous and historic bacaro, now in business for over one hundred years! 

Cicchetti are served up by the thousands everyday from morning until night, with special attention to local ingredients and catches of the day from the Rialto market. 

Tip: Try and get a table outdoors lining the street, which allows you to slowly chip away at several cicchetti and ombre. 

Cantina Do Spade

Sign at entrance to Cantino do Spade in Venice, Italy. Woman at table inside.

San Polo, 859

Specialty: Polpetta di spianata calabra, a fried spicy meatball 

Cantina Do Spade is the place you want to be for more than just crostini. Do Spade means two swords and has now been managed by Francesco Munarini for over ten years. 

Good To Know: Cantina Do Spade is also one of the best restaurants in Venice, including excellent take-out.

Osteria Bancogiro

Closed up front entrance of Bancogiro in Venice, Italy. Stickers on door showing awards won. Wooden doors with glass windows.

Campo San Giacometto, Ponte di Rialto, 122

Specialty: Ricotta salata con gamberi al curry (aged ricotta with curried shrimp on a piece of polenta)

Bancogiro literally means bank transfer, a reference to the world’s first publicly funded bank founded in Venice, showcasing its important economic and international commercial relations. 

Bancogiro is in part a bacari and part restaurant with a large outdoor terrace overlooking the Grand Canal on Campo Erberia. Bancogiro has a large selection of wines by the glass, which changes on a daily basis. 

Acqua e Mais

People standing in line outside Acqua e Mais bacaro in Venice, Italy. They're wearing coats.

Campiello dei Meloni, 1411/1412

Specialty: Seafood skewers (also good for fried fish, some of the best street food in Venice

Acqua e Mais is one of the best holes in the wall for cicchetti in Venice, specializing in great street food, take-away lunch items and traditional seafood cicchetti such as seafood skewers. 

Al Mercà

People sitting to left of entrance of 'Al Merca' baccaro in Venice, Italy.

Campo Bella Vienna, 213 

Specialty: Small sandwiches

Al Mercà has no sitting space but is just a window bar specializing in local wines, spritz and small sandwiches to enjoy standing in the piazza outside the Rialto Market in Venice. Come here in the morning and stand side-by-side the locals! 

More Cicchetti In Venice: For more recommendations on where to eat the best cicchetti in Venice, read Where to Eat the Best Cicchetti in Venice.

Cicchetti FAQ

What is a bacaro tour?

A bacaro tour refers to the idea of making a whole evening out of grazing through Venice, eating your way through the various enoteche, bars and bacari selling cicchetti. Eating cicchetti is a social affair and there is nothing more social than bar hopping! 

Venice bound? Get prepared with all of our Venice posts:
20+ Must-Try Foods And Drinks In Venice – And My Favorite Places To Eat Them
What Are Cicchetti? + Where To Eat Them In Venice
What Is A Bacaro? + A Local’s Self Guided Bacaro Tour Itinerary
My Favorite Cicchetti In Venice – The 10 Best Bacari To Try
Best Restaurants in Venice + Nearest Cicchetti Stops
Best Gelato In Venice – My Italian Family’s 10 Favorite Gelaterie
7 Food Markets In Venice Worth Your Time
Where To Get Coffee In Venice
Where To Eat Breakfast In Venice – A Local’s Favorite Breakfast Nooks
10 Amazing Bakeries In Venice – Where to Get Your Pastry On
Best Spots In Venice For Aperitivo – My Top Bars & Squares for Pre-Dinner Drinks
Dinner On The Water In Venice – My Top 7 Restaurants
Best Pizza In Venice – My ‘Don’t Miss’ List
My Favorite After Dinner Drink Spots In Venice
Shopping at the Rialto Market in Venice – Tips + Printable
5 Street Foods To Try In Venice & Where Eat Them
Best Places To Get Takeout In Venice – My Top Picks
Where To Eat Before Catching Your Train At The Venice Santa Lucia Train Station
My Favorite Food Chains To Try In Venice
Eating Gluten-Free In Venice – Restaurants, Cicchetti & Gelato
Gluten-Free Cicchetti In Venice – What To Order (& Avoid) and How to Order
Eating Vegetarian In Venice – My Top Five Vegetarian Friendly Restaurants + Tips
Eating Vegan In Venice, Italy – My Top Five Vegan Friendly Restaurants

Eating in Venice While Pregnant
8+ Kid Friendly Restaurants In Venice
Best Squares To Eat And Drink With Kids In Venice
24 Hour Food Guide For Venice – A Self Guided Tour For Foodies in Venice
Eating Around Venice in 48 hours – 2 Day Venice Itinerary For Foodies
10 Best Food Souvenirs From Venice, Italy + Where I Buy Them